Entrepreneurial and Network Research

Entrepreneurial Networks & Ecosystem Research and Measurement Workshop Synopsis (June 28, 2023)

Organized by ICatalysts and Entrepreneur Futures 

Over the past two years, ICatalysts, EFN, and the University of Michigan have conducted research and outreach on entrepreneurial networks and ecosystem development.  In June 2023, we held a half-day workshop for practitioners and researchers to present our research to date and invite others to present and join our panel and breakout group discussions. The program featured a panel of state and federal entrepreneurship and economic development professionals and presentations from five researchers.  Over 160 people joined in.  People participated to learn about ecosystem approaches to entrepreneurship and economic development, measurement, and research, and to network.  

 See presentations and references. 

Takeaways:  There is consensus on what an ecosystem is and that this approach to economic development can lead to more equitable outcomes. Measuring ecosystem development is complex.  There is general disagreement on the role of government in local development.   Finding and sustaining local leaders is a big challenge.  Venture capital and other institutional investors see the value of developing local ecosystems but tend to not participate actively. 

June 2023 Workshop Purpose

Discuss what is and the value of an entrepreneurial ecosystem approach to economic development.


The program featured a panel of federal and state entrepreneurship and economic development professionals and regional investors and five research presentations. 

There was a healthy exchange of diverse viewpoints and ideas (on the panels, Q&A, and in the chat) from dozens of presenters, panelists, and attendees.

Key discussion topics reflected in the chat and Q&A were:


Entrepreneurial ecosystem definitions, importance, structure and measurement, and leadership.




While academic researchers generally agree on a broad definition of an entrepreneurial ecosystem practitioners have a variety of ecosystem definitions


Ecosystems are social and economic networks, and the importance of connectedness and relationships is a common element in all definitions.


The health and success of ecosystems rely on the collective efforts of stakeholders. To be successful, stakeholders must play nicely in the ecosystem sandbox.


Importance, Structure, and Measurement


Ecosystem thinking can be a powerful approach to economic development and can improve network access and reduce inequity in local and regional economies and related networks. 


Participants agreed with the Kauffman Foundation, academic research and our own research with the University of Michigan that shows that denser ecosystems are more productive than less dense ecosystems (e.g., in creating more funded startups). But, the extent to which access to ecosystem resources is equitable influences who benefits even within denser ecosystems.   Yet, achieving healthy local density or inter-connectedness to other regions is a challenge in many areas.


A few attendees commented that technology-driven ecosystems are often overprioritized.  As a result, local or main street business initiatives are often less empathized and supported.


Several attendees commented that despite massive federal investments in regional entrepreneurship and technology development and the federal agencies’ goals for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), there is a lack of investment in developing data and techniques to measure progress toward ecosystem development and DEI goals.  


Also, possibly because of the award-based focus of many federal (and state) entrepreneurial grant programs, the projects may be overly siloed, and don’t encourage collaboration with other regional programs that the government funds.  This situation can inhibit ecosystem development. 


While there is a consensus that equitable access to networks and ecosystem resources is critical to achieving DEI goals, there is little work in the US on measuring this.  One attendee mentioned that the Canadian federal government may have made more progress in this regard.


A few commenters mentioned that federal, state, and other funders should have training on the importance of ecosystem approaches and measurement and on related equity issues.


Stakeholders and Leadership


Key ecosystem stakeholders are entrepreneurs, businesspeople, investors (private, public, philanthropic), community members, and government including those focused on economic development and those focused on equitable access to ecosystems. 


Ecosystems are not directed from the top but are driven by stakeholders.  Government and other stakeholders can provide incentives and develop and encourage norms.


There was some disagreement about what type of organizations or roles should take a lead role in building a regional ecosystem.  Everyone agrees that entrepreneurs and small business owners of all kinds are key to driving the development of ecosystems because without them an entrepreneurial ecosystem does not exist or produce important outcomes. 


But attendees disagreed on if entrepreneurs should lead ecosystems or if community groups or local government are in the best position to lead.  Some attendees cautioned whether community groups or local or state or federal levels of government should lead an entrepreneurial ecosystem because they often don’t have a background in entrepreneurship.


Government is critical to set any related economic and social policy and regulatory conditions. Local political leaders could play a greater role in ecosystem building, especially by leveraging strong leadership abilities (if present) and if they have a solid understanding of entrepreneurship and economic development. 


An attendee noted that groups in under-resourced communities often do not have the capacity to lead these ecosystem building efforts. One of the attendees suggested that groups that represent a coalition or partnership of ecosystems stakeholders and interests may be in the best position to lead or catalyze these efforts.

Access the Workshop’s resources:
Video recording

Overview and presenter slides

A short list of ecosystem articles and research references from the presenters and other researchers.

Ecosystem/Network Analyzer Demo Software.